On the morning of June 12, 2016, 49 people lost their lives in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in what turned out to be the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. While the city and nation was grieving, an organization stepped in to do its part and help those affected by the attack, as well as their pets.
The Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando—which provides shelter, adoption, education, and veterinary services for the community—offered care to any friends or family members whose loved one was involved in the tragedy and needed help with their pets.
Stephen Bardy, the executive director of Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, tells petMD, "We were able to provide an array of needed services, including veterinary care, dental care, food and medical assistance, and temporary sheltering through our volunteer foster homes. Our staff groomer even provided some of the dogs with a fresh new look."
Since the organization already provides emergency services and care for victims of other violent situations, including domestic abuse, they were able to act quickly in a time when many people needed assistance.
"The city of Orlando coordinated a Family Assistance Center that allowed families of victims one place to access various services," Bardy explains. "This coordinated effort took some of the stress from the families by connecting them with the many agencies that were offering assistance."
While it was not an easy time for the people of Orlando, Bardy and Pet Alliance wanted to do whatever they could to help. "We knew from the beginning that Pet Alliance could meet the needs of families with pets. We believed we could be part of the healing of the families and our community."
Not only did they help the people affected, but they made a positive impact on the pets, too. "Animals can experience trauma in similar ways to humans," Bardy explains. "We know that some animals experience separation anxiety and depression when their owners are away. Our staff were more aware during this time. Simple things like consistent feeding times, walking a dog, play time with cats, or just sitting in a chair and comforting your pet can make them feel more safe and secure. "
It has been a harrowing few weeks for Orlando, but Bardy talks proudly about his love for the city and resilience of its people.
"We are Orlando united. Living not far from the site of the tragedy, it is a very emotional time for all of us. I love living in Orlando. It is a great city. My eyes tear up thinking about the shootings, but I am so proud of my fellow residents and how we reacted in the face of such a horrific terrorist act."
For anyone that was touched by what Pet Alliance and other organizations did during this terrible time, there are actions anyone can take in their own communities to get involved and be prepared.
"People can work with their local humane society, SPCA, animal welfare group, and veterinarians to have procedures in place to support pets when there is an emergency," Bardy advises. "It can take some coordination, but that is what I call a 'minute fix.'"
Bardy also recommends that any pet parent have a plan in place for the care of their pets in case anything tragic does happen. "It can be as simple as an identification card in their wallet or purse, or a more detailed legal document such as a will. It may be hard for any pet owner to think about how their pet would react if they never returned home, but knowing you have a plan for their care puts your heart at ease."
Image via Shutterstock